Saturday, January 23, 2016

Chris O'Leary Gonna Die Trying

There is something about Chris O'Leary's music that strikes the listener immediately and it is the authority that he brings to his songs, and his songs have a reality to them that make his vigorous singing sound so powerful. O'Leary served in the Marines for 7 years and played for six years as a mem­ber of Levon Helm’s Barn­burn­ers, and this is reflected in his superb new American Showcase Music CD "Gonna Die Trying." In addition to his vocals and strong harmonica playing, he is backed by Chris Vitarello on gui­tar, Andy Stahl and Chris Difrancesco on sax­o­phones, Matt Ray­mond on bass and Jay Devlin on drums. In addition to his band, other players on this include Bruce Katz on piano & organ, Vin­nie Nobile on trom­bone, and Willa Pan­vini McCarthy & Libby Cabello on back­ground vocals. John Mooney is a spe­cial guest on one track.

One thing that strikes this listener from the first selection, "Can't Help Yourself," is his raspy, cleanly articulated, rapid-fire vocals. He commands our attention singing about going of the war and then returning home to find promises made before he served were empty; that jobs being exported overseas labor overseas with unions being blamed; and there being too little money for our war casualties today. Similarly powerful songs include "19¢ a Day," set against a crisp John Lee Hooker boogie groove, and the stark "Letters From Home," (opening with terrific guitar from Vitarello) where O'Leary sings of being terrified and lonesome in a dirty hole a thousand miles from home with desert winds chilling him to the bone in the god-forsaken combat zone. His vocal is compelling (his vocal dynamics is exemplary) and the backing is terrific. "One More Saturday Night," is a superb shuffle as he displays his formidable harmonica chops, on a song about about making it through the week, and needing one more Saturday night to let loose. The spirited "Harvest Time" has a New Orleans second-line groove with John Mooney adding slide guitar.

There is so much to like about Chris O'Leary and with excellent songs, and first-rate backing from his band and guests, O'Leary's "Gonna Die Trying" is sensational.

I received my review copy from the label. Here is he performing "Letters From Home."

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